BY MICHAEL LEESE
Last Saturday, I was fortunate enough to spend the day in Louisville, Kentucky on the 15th game of my cross-country college football journey. It was a good thing I was hungry when I got there, because as I mingled among many tailgate parties, I enjoyed all kinds of good food and talked a lot of college football. I learned that the Cardinal fan base is very passionate about their team, and that many fans are excited about Louisville’s prospects for the upcoming bowl season.
A LITTLE CARDINAL KNOWLEDGE ……..
The Cardinals have been playing football since 1912 and have won seven conference titles during that time, the last in the Big East in 2006. That season, Louisville climbed to No.6 in the polls, their highest-ever ranking. Currently, the Cardinals are 10-1 and ranked No. 20 and still have an outside chance of sharing the AAC crown and getting an at-large BCS berth. They play their games in downtown Louisville, at beautiful Papa John’s Stadium. The stadium opened in 1998, with seating for 42,000 fans. In 2010, the stadium was expanded, capacity grew to 55,000, and there is not a bad seat in the house. The stadium is named for Papa Johns, the pizza chain which donated money to build the stadium and donated money again for the expansion.
Every year, Louisville has two huge rivalry games. The Cardinals face in-state rival Kentucky, who they play for the Governor’s Cup. The other rivalry is against the Cincinnati Bearcats, who they play for the “The Keg of Nails” because the winner is thought of as being as tough as nails. The Cardinals won the Governor’s Cup earlier this year, a 27-13 win at Kentucky and will play for the Keg of Nails Thursday night in Cincinnati, a game I will be attending!
Head coach Charlie Strong took over the program four years ago and follows an impressive list of head coaches that have walked the sidelines here. Frank Camp at 23 years has been the longest tenured coach. He was followed by notable coaches, including Lee Corso, Howard Schnellenberger, John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino. Schnellenberger, who came to Louisville after winning a national championship at Miami (FL), gets credit for putting Louisville on the football map, and the athletic center is named after him.
There is a long list of players that have gone on to outstanding careers in the NFL. The most famous is Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas. Linebacker Tom Jackson and offensive lineman Joe Jacoby may also end up in Canton at some point. Former Louisville players in the NFL currently include Elvis Dumervil, Michael Bush and David Akers.
Teddy Bridgewater threw for 220 yards and a touchdown in what could be his final home game as No. 21 Louisville held off Memphis 24-17.
Louisville seemed to be in control,using a 17-point charge during the second and third quarters to take a 24-3 lead. Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch rallied the Tigers, scoring on a 4-yard run early in the fourth quarter and a 6-yard TD pass to Jesse Milleson with 6:07 remaining.
“For us to go up and then they start fighting back, you know those things happen,” Bridgewater said. “It’s all about how you answer them. We were able to finish strong and are glad to get the win.” The victory was the first senior day win for the Cardinals since 2007, and may have been the last game for one of the best players in school history, Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater began the season as a Heisman Trophy hopeful before a loss to Central Florida changed his fortunes. He is scheduled to graduate in December, and is projected possibly be the first overall pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. Head coach Charlie Strong has floated the possibility of his quarterback returning for his senior season.
Bridgewater offered no clue on his plans either way, saying afterward, “we have a couple more games on the schedule. Right now, I have my focus on that.”
Showing off a conference championship ring
A highlight of my trip was seeing Gary Barnes, a 1972 Louisville graduate. Gary turned out to be a wealth of knowledge and had several amazing stories to share. My favorite was how he was a key player on the 1972 team that won the Missouri Valley Conference Championship, and he was wearing the ring to prove it! Coming out of high school in Cleveland, he was a standout athlete and highly recruited. His high school teammate and best friend was a guy named Tom Jackson, and the two decided to go to Louisville together, spurning many bigger name schools. We know Tom Jackson as a 14-year veteran of the Denver Broncos and ESPN analyst.
Personally, I thought the fans at Louisville were awesome, and I want to thank all of you that made my trip an amazing experience! .